Tourism took Sh130b hit in 2020, says Balala

Tourism CS Najib Balala (PHOTO FILE)

The tourism sector lost Sh130 billion this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic disruptions, Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has said.

He said on Thursday the decline was due to low occupancy, cancelled trips and disruption in foreign and local travel that saw several hotels shut down operations.

This led to massive layoffs of casual workers in the hospitality sector, with others being sent on unpaid leave or forced to take salary cuts.

Early in March, flights between Mombasa and Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Middle and the Far East, which account for the bulk of tourists to the Kenyan Coast, were suspended.

In May, industry figures show, about 3,000 tourists left the country before flight bans as countries, including Kenya, moved to contain the spread of the deadly virus. 

After the ban, the Italian Embassy in Nairobi evacuated about 500 tourists through the Moi International Airport in Mombasa.

According to Balala, the events following the outbreak of the virus in the country wiped out projected revenues for the sector, which is one of Kenya’s biggest foreign exchange earners.

In 2019, Kenya earned Sh164 billion from the industry, up from Sh157 billion in 2018.

“We wish to salute the private sector for all their contribution in keeping the tourism industry afloat,’’ said the CS in his New Year message.

“It was the private sector players who provided hot meals to frontline health workers, distributed essential goods, including food, to communities around wildlife conservation areas as well as engaged with the Tourism Ministry in coming up with the Magical Kenya Tourism Travel and Health Protocols for the new normal,” added Balala.

He said the government was implementing several plans to assist the sector to recover from the Covid-19 disruptions, including the introduction of hotel and conservation stimulus packages and reduction in some taxes.

Balala said the government has also invested heavily in health infrastructure through the implementation of health and safety protocols to keep the virus at bay.

“It goes without saying that the immediate opportunity lies in ramping up domestic and continental tourism and positioning Kenya as the gold-standard and tourist hub to access the rest of the East African region. We have what it takes to make this happen if we adopt an agile mindset and exploit this vast blue ocean of opportunity,’’ said the CS.

On the domestic tourism front, Balala said a lot more needs to be done to exploit the existing potential. 

“We need to relook product pricing, product reinvention and staff retraining. We cannot offer the same premium prices to the domestic market as we do to the international ones. This is because international tourists visit only once most of the times, while domestic tourists have the potential of visiting a certain local destination again and again, becoming our ambassadors,’’ Balala said.

He also called for product reinvention and diversification, noting there was no way Kenyan tourism can continue to offer the same old tourism facilities and expect to keep up with other leading destinations.

“I have repeatedly made it clear that as an industry, we need to come up with unique products that will awe tourists and make them want to visit that particular attraction. These products need to be diversified and scattered all over the country so that we can open up the country,’’ said the CS. He at the same time urged establishments to ensure staff retention for continuity.

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